Sex. Feminism. Lesbian Werewolves.

I Hate Women Who Hate Women (or Henry Miller is just alright with me)

Posted on Aug 23, 2010 in Feminism, Gender, Literature, Sexuality, Writing | 9 comments

This post was inspired by therejectionist’s prompt: Is it okay to appreciate a work whose author or the work itself espouses some rather indefensible opinions? Here’s my answer.

There are two kinds of misogyny. I break it down as such: Carrie Bradshaw-flavored and Henry Miller-flavored. One makes me throw a book across a room, and the other may make me squirm a bit but sigh and keep reading.

Bradshaw is about women who claim to have their shit together- they are “career women” who claim to be “liberated” and “empowered” and “the authors of their own lives” while tottering around New York in feet-disfiguring shoes and whining about being childless at forty.

The second, Miller, is about women who get called bitches and cunts because they are often shrill and catty, and get used for sex then tossed aside.

Henry Miller cozies up with Charles Bukowski and Jack Kerouac on my bookshelves, while the Bradshaws of contemporary lit are never will. How can I stand Miller’s repeated “cunts” while Bradshaw’s internalized misogyny sends me shuffling for the lighter fluid?

Miller’s misogyny stems from female characters with wants and goals that interfere with the narrator’s. The resulting anger and frustration comes from both his love and hate of these women for their power over him and his resulting inability to control these objects of his scorn and desire. Such narrators are more interesting as storytellers because of their fallibility and their self-effacing honesty. All their veiled insults or pseudo-aggressive actions are attempts to empower themselves, which makes for compelling drama. The female protagonists in these books get it, too (though Hemingway scores no points here). They, like their male counterparts, are subtly imprisoned by their own unhealthy obsessions. As a reader, we can relate until it becomes uncomfortable, then we can judge. And then we can relate again.

Yes, the world is full of men who relate to Henry Miller a bit too much to be sane or safe. Yet, as a woman reading these books, I’m in on the joke. I see how cruel all the characters are to each other, to preserve their egos and further their objectives, subtly imprisoned by their need to be loved and respected, while affording neither to one another.

Henry Miller’s misogyny is the kind of Wall Street honchos who hire pro-doms on the weekends to knowingly give their hubris a wicked and necessary dose of humility. Thus, Miller and his cohorts get a pass from me. Carrie Bradshaw can die in a fire, as far as I’m concerned, because she is NOT in on the joke. She doesn’t see her cultural vapidity, her insipid desires, and her deference to class markers and antiquated beauty standards as products of the patriarchy, not a repudiation of it.

As a queer woman reading any “mainstream” book with a central romance, I have to turn a blind eye to gender roles in order to connect with the story because so often the protagonist’s objectives are so far from my own, such as marriage and babies, swooooon. Such a vast suspension of disbelief isn’t demanded from me when reading the so-called “misogynist” texts. Happily ever after for such books doesn’t mean a kiss or a wedding. More often, it means that everyone survived with their dignity intact. Objectives like artistic integrity, escape from bourgeois cultural standards, and lots of superb sex are things I can get behind, regardless of gender or sexual identity.

Chick-lit books like to make sweeping claims on womanhood, then paint their characters as women I would never identify with. This sets me up for complete removal from their world. They tell me What Women Want, and then don’t show me one damn woman wants to wear busted up boots, to shave her head, or see Sleater-Kinney to reunite. The protagonists of chick-lit books are never written as sovereign characters who are fighting a real threat or are aspiring to a level of greatness I would want. Instead, they are half-formed characters looking for completion, whether through career success, material gains, or the love of a man.

So, give me Henry Miller’s sympathetic misogyny, with his four-letter epithets and meaningless sex. Make me cringe with his self-loathing, just don’t make me strap on four-inch heels in the name of liberation.



Join the conversation and post a comment.

  1. the rejectionist


  2. ckhb

    And don’t get me started on the episode of Sex & the City where she tries to date a bi guy and freaks out. OH YOU WACKY KIDS WITH YOUR FLUID SEXUAL ORIENTATION, YOU’RE JUST TOO SEXY FOR MY MANOLOS.

    I’ll come back and rage more eloquently when I’m not late for an evening writing class…

  3. Casey Lybrand

    Allison. I do this, too. The blind-eye thing to be able to connect with many mainstream stories. Which sometimes works. (I do this for some of the reasons you share, and for others that are my own.)

    Great post.

  4. J. A. Platt

    I’ve tried to explain to my (straight, white, feminist) roomie why I hate Sex and the City, in future I will point her at this excellent post.

    Now I need to put Henry Miller on my reading list.

    (And I do the blind-eye trick too. Though originally it was to get through Dean Koontz books. *cringe*)

  5. Anica

    Wonderful post!

    I’ve long found it frustrating that what is generally called “women’s fiction” is so frequently without any real action, drama, threat, or adventure that isn’t really about men (and the getting/getting over/keeping thereof).

    I’ve never seen an episode of Sex and the City, and deeply don’t care. I can’t say that I hate the show, since I know little about it, but I have no reason to think I’d like it, so I’ve no intention of bothering with it.

  6. Dan

    Sorry my poor english..

    I disagree with you. Maybe you’ve just read the famous novels of Miller.. In these novels he is confused and in his dark side. The girl that helped him to find his writer carrer was his great love.. and she was a prostitute and a lier. But he never told one word of here like I wrote. Why? Because he is a poet and a great artist.

    You should try to go out of your room.. and live your own dark side.. to learn something about you and your limits.

    Im pretty sure that tou would change your mind about Miller.


  7. LucindaE

    Hello, very stimulating post. Re; women who hate women, I have just read the ‘Theseus’ novels of Mary Renault and was horrified by the way that she warped the myth to lay blame on female characters, and to make poor Phaedra, Theseus’ last wife, die a horrible death…She’s long been a gay icon, so women tend not to pick up on the internalised misogyny aspect of the novels, but when I read her bigoraphy by David Sweetman I wasn’t at all surprised to read that she did, indeed, have a low view of women.

  8. Christian Sandoval

    Greetings from México! (sorry about my English)… I was researching about Henry Miller and found your page. I loved it. I had to google some words I didn’t know like “honcho” and “pro-dom”, as a Mexican heterosexual male I found it really interesting and educative, I love your writing voice. I’ll be checking out your blog often from now on. Cheers! (BTW: Seriously. When is Sleater-Kinney going to reunite, WHEN?!)

  9. Horia

    Your post touched on so many of my natural feelings and reactions. Particularly your thoughts on Carrie Bradshaw’s internalized misogyny. Most women I’ve met in my life live in a perpetual state of internalized misogyny and this has always disappointed me, irritated me, and confused me.

    But Henry Miller does not seem to get it, either. He died a full grown man who never seemed to understand that his emotions were misplaced, or that his intentions were not the most beneficial to himself. A man with a strong character and a piercing intellect, like Miller, benefits the most from a woman with at least as piercing of an intellect but with patience much stronger than his ego. The bigger the ego, the more of a mother a man needs in his relationship, because the bigger the ego, the easier he’ll be offended or disappointed or demoralized. The best women for men like Miller are not ones who’ll let him throw a hissy fit; they are ones who will patiently show him a better way time and time again.


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